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EFAC Australia

Essentials

"Please! No more boring sermons"

Book Review by Peter Brain

Editor Keith Weller Acorn Press 2007

This book will prove to be a very practical help for preachers. Its strength lays not so much in its express purpose of no more boring sermons but the clear conviction of each of its ten contributors that Biblical preaching is essential to God's purposes.

The first two thirds of the book contain eleven articles covering the importance of preaching, its character, preparation, its orality and sound, preaching and liturgy, preaching the Old Testament narrative, series, occasional and evangelistic preaching.

These are thoughtfully developed by eight experienced practitioners including now retired veterans like Harry Goodhew, David Williams, Keith Rayner and John Chapman along with those who teach and train new preachers, Peter Adam, Adrian Lane and Robin Payne and from the busy and experienced Vicar of St. Judes, Carlton, Richard Condie.

In the previous edition of Essentials, Simon Flinders invited us to reconsider in what ways we should — and should not — interpret the messianic content of Genesis 3:15. We can avoid a simplistic approach, where the answer to every question is Jesus, and use responsible biblical theology to plot an equally-exciting trajectory concerning God's plans for his world and for his victory over Satan.

Similar caution should be applied to the third chapter of the last book of the Old Testament. And similarly-exciting results can be found…

The Problem

Malachi 3:1 has long been considered a messianic proof text. To his people who had resettled in Judah after returning from exile, Yahweh Sabaoth announces:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. (NIV)

What do you understand these words to promise?

'SERPENT CRUSHER OR SERPENT CRUSHERS?'
RE-THINKING THE TRAJECTORY OF GENESIS 3:15

About two years ago now I came to preach on Genesis 3, and I found myself thinking again about how it points us to Christ. I'm convinced it does. But in what way? So I found myself pondering again the ways in which I've heard others answer that question. Because on many occasions, at least in the circles I move in, I've heard people explain the Biblical Theology of Genesis 3 in a way that I'm not sure is right.

I'm referring to the idea that Genesis 3:15 is the first explicit statement of Messianic expectation in the Old Testament. From that moment on, so people say, the narrative invites us to await the appearance of the Serpent Crusher- the one who will crush Satan under his feet and thus reverse the effects of the fall. Furthermore, as Christian readers of the Old Testament, people have taught that we should see in this verse God's plan to send his Christ to deliver humanity from themselves. Jesus is the Serpent Crusher of Genesis 3:15. Or so the story goes . . .

"This is certainly part of the core mission of the church." A comment to this effect came at the conclusion to a presentation on climate change at General Synod, and it certainly stimulated conversation. Just what do we consider to be the 'core mission of the church', and how does it relate to evangelism? Are evangelism and mission essentially the same? Should not our core focus be in saving souls?

This is more than a matter of semantics. With the attention given to 'mission-shaped' ministry and rediscovery of what it means to 'be church', notions of mission can mean very different things to different people. However, it may be that we are framing our questions the wrong way round. Does the church have a mission in its own right, and is it in any position to decide what such a mission is?

What is your church doing this Christmas?

Upon reflection after Christmas last year, Holy Trinity Adelaide realised that they had in fact run a major mission over the season. Apart from school visits, heritage tours and the Christmas services, three events in particular helped them to reach out to not-yet Christians. Over 3,000 people were reached. This is their story by Craig Broman:

Micah is the flavour of the month for Old Testament prophets. His name has been catapulted onto the public stage through the Micah Challenge, and the associated Make Poverty History campaign. But does Micah simply tell us to "make poverty history"? Is this his only message: "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God" (6:8)? Is there more to the prophet Micah?

Micah Then

Micah was writing to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (1:1) which places him somewhere between 750-686BC. This period was a time of great affluence in Judah and the lure of wealth and power led to sins of corruption and idolatry. We see these sins among the people of God, germinating in the fertile ground of wealth and prosperity, growing up into their day to day dealings, into business, leadership and religion. Micah speaks strong words of judgement against these sins. He denounces the idolaters, the wealthy landowning classes who oppress the poor and marginalised, the civic and spiritual leaders who take the law into their own hands, and informs them of the coming judgement of God.

But the book is not all judgement. The fabric of the book is also woven with a strong message of redemption for the faithful. These signs of hope in the God of the covenant intersperse the messages of condemnation against sin. There is a vision of the renewed Jerusalem as the sign of hope and restoration beyond the exile. There is the promise of the ruler who will be born in Bethlehem of Ephrathah. There is the wonderful note of forgiveness and mercy that rings in the readers' ears as the book draws to a close.

In affluent Australia today there is very strong support for environmental virtue, in particular for action to counter the perceived threat of climate change - primarily by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This raises questions of public policy and cost. For the Christian it also raises the big question of what faithful stewardship of God's created world actually means, in practice.

My book Responsible Dominion sets out to do two things in grappling with the stewardship question:
  • challenge some green Christian waffle which has been published over the last 15 years, and suggest that a Christian approach should not only respect God's handiwork in creation - the focus on green and aesthetic aspects, but also encompass a practical understanding of the earth's resources, which are no less his handiwork. Furthermore it asserts that those resources are needed to give all the 6.5 billion inhabitants a standard of living comparable with ours.
  • challenge the basis of secular environmental ideology, which is fundamentally pagan and contemptuous of Christian priorities which understand humankind as made in God's image. That of course doesn't stop it being picked up by Christians and retailed into the churches, as it has been.
The substance of the book looks at what is practical and sustainable in relation to land use, agriculture, forestry, minerals and energy.

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